The holiday caravans had been empty for months. Every hotel in the village had vacancies. No one expected there to be many visitors clambering for a winter ramble along the frigid pebbled beach just outside the village. Nonetheless one evening in December, two ramshackle tents were spotted clinging to the rocky cliff by the sea, blustering in the wind and spitting rain. They sat a decorous yet intrigued distance from one another, like year sevens at a school disco.
Inside the larger of the two tents, a boy with untidy black hair was giving serious thought to his romantic entanglements.
At no point during Remus Lupin Disapparating with Pius Thicknesse, the tent set-up, or casting the wards did Draco let on whether or not he and Harry were dating now, or doing anything other than taking the piss out of one another as usual. Harry found this rather confusing. Similarly confusing was Sirius Black, sat incongruously at their kitchen table with a mug of tea. Harry kept to the sofa with Ginny and Luna, trying not to be in Black’s eye-line. He kept staring. Harry wished Ron wasn’t on watch. He could do with someone to make commiserating faces at. He wished that Draco would sit next to him, but he was keeping his distance. God. Mostly, Harry wished they’d never run into these fucking adults. Then he thought about what else had happened in that forest, and his cheeks went hot.
“Ingenious,” Sirius Black was saying, shaking his shaggy head. “Bloody brilliant. How did you even get into the fucking house? That thing’s warded up to the gills.”
“We had help,” Hermione began brightly, but shut her mouth when Draco sent her a murderous look.
“We did almost all die, so the help wasn’t… always helpful.” Neville looked at Draco, seemingly trying to gauge if he helped.
“More blood traitors?” Black made an impressed sort of face. “Our numbers grow. First Malfoy, now this new one. Where are they? Leave them behind to face the dull yet murderous music, did you?”
“They aren’t a blood traitor,” Draco said sharply. “And as far as I know, I’m not one either. Not like you.”
“Really,” drawled Black. All the humour drained from his expression, leaving behind a very cold set of cheekbones. “What are you, then?”
Draco coloured and turned away.
Black leaned forward, eyes narrowing. “What, you think you’d have a dead exciting gap year? Dirty up your soft hands with the revolutionaries for a few months, then run along back to the family estate and rule in comfort?”
“Fuck you,” Harry said hotly, getting to his feet and stalking right over to Black. “Say that again.”
“Draco’s been instrumental in our operations,” Hermione said, blocking Harry with one firm arm. “He’s not a spy, or a dilettante, if that’s what you’re insinuating.”
Black held up his hands in surrender. “Sure.”
“Sit the fuck down, Potter,” Draco hissed. “You’re embarrassing yourself.”
Harry sat next to Draco, glaring across the table at Black. Hermione said they were meant to trust him now, for some bloody reason, but Harry had one hand on his wand at all times. He wasn’t taking any chances.
“Well, if you’re just going to glower like a constipated Hitwizard, Potter, I am going to have a frigid bath and contemplate my imminent return to the family estate. You’ve heard who lives there now, Black? I’m sure I’ll be welcomed back with open arms after my gap year.” Draco stalked off towards the bathroom, door slamming in his wake.
“We don’t have hot water, really,” Neville said, after a tense minute. They could hear Draco banging around in the bathroom, the water turning on and off. “There’s something wrong with the bath, like it’s resistant to heating charms. The tap runs lukewarm for about thirty seconds and then you’ve got to sort of… pour it in buckets, then heat the buckets with magic, and levitate the water. It’s a whole production.”
“I doubt the Malfoys have it much better,” Black admitted, looking at the closed door with a tilted eyebrow. “Purebloods think suffering is morally superior.”
“My gran’s proof of that,” Neville agreed. “I only had cold baths until I got to Hogwarts.”
“That’s the real reason we’re blood traitors,” Ginny called, from her slightly awkward game of Exploding Snap. “Weasleys just wanted a hot bath.”
Hermione shook her head. “This is why all of you have so many neuroses.”
Sirius Black let out a bark of a laugh, throwing his head back at the force of it.
Harry levelled him with an unimpressed look.
“Sorry about before,” Black said, quieter. “That was… unsporting of me.”
Harry snorted at unsporting. Purebloods were ridiculous.
Black’s gaunt face lit up. His smile took ten years off him, and Harry wondered whether this is what he had looked like when he had known his father. When they had been mates, apparently. Harry pushed back from the table and went to go look at Ginny and Luna’s card game.
They were quiet after that, the radio playing softly in the background as Ginny and Luna argued about Exploding Snap. Hermione went through the cupboards, frowning, and eventually came back out with three packets of Hula Hoops, a Mars bar, and four apples, which she divided up in exacting portions. Eventually Draco left the bathroom, glowering, and disappeared into their room to bang around a bit more in order to punctuate his dissatisfaction.
“Incoming,” Ron called, after Harry had spent a good half hour agonising over whether he should go in after Draco or not. He’d settled on ‘not’, but only because Black was out here. Harry wouldn’t be able to do — anything, any of the soft things he wanted, horrifyingly, to try out, not with Black and now Lupin on the other side of the door.
Remus Lupin ducked into the tent and shook out his wet cloak, scowling. “The number of lies I had to tell to sort that out…”
Black perked up as soon as he saw Lupin. “Come off it, Moony, you love orchestrating the downfalls of governments. Don’t try out that old professor act.”
“I am an old professor. But never mind.” Lupin nodded his thanks at Neville, who had flicked on the kettle and begun making tea. “The Order has relocated Thicknesse to a safe house. We’re hoping he’ll be willing to come out publicly about what’s going on behind the scenes at the Ministry, but given his current reticence on the matter this seems… unlikely.”
“What the fuck does it matter what he wants?” Ginny looked incensed. “It’s the bloody right thing to do!”
“Be that as it may, Miss Weasley, we aren’t in the business of forcing people.”
Ginny scoffed. “He’s a rotten coward.”
Black made a face like he was sucking a lemon. “Personally I’d go with ‘spineless flayed flobberworm’, but if you don’t want to get creative, coward’s the least of what he is.”
“So what’re you lot doing with him, then?” Ron had come in from watch and was handing the watch lantern over to Ginny. “Have him clean out your larder for kicks? Mild weeding? Bit of de-gnoming?”
“Boy has a point,” grumbled Black. “Thicknesse is useless as is.”
Lupin sighed. “Thicknesse is not our primary concern. It’s a miracle you got out of Parkinson Park alive. If we hadn’t been tracking you, if we hadn’t had inside information —”
“Well we didn’t bloody die,” Harry said staunchly. “So it doesn’t fucking matter, does it?”
“It was reckless. You hardly planned, you didn’t have backup, you’re a handful of half-trained teenagers and most of you have hardly any qualifications —”
Hermione made a small, panicked noise, like a guilt-ridden vampire bat. “We’ve done our best to replicate Hogwarts training. I know it isn’t the same, but we really have been putting effort into a well-rounded education.”
“Seeing as the Ministry is currently run by a monomaniacal dark wizard,” Luna said placidly, “I don’t see how Ministry-run exams are relevant.”
“You could been killed. You could have all been captured.” Lupin rubbed his forehead. He was very wan, and sort of drained like he ought to sit down somewhere and have a cup of tea before he collapsed of scurvy or something. “With Harry along with you — do you know what they would have done?”
Hermione’s jaw tightened. She looked pale. “I had thought of that, but —”
“But you thought Pius Thicknesse was worth your lives? Harry’s life?”
“My life is my fucking business, mate,” spat Harry, getting to his feet. He had had quite enough of this. “You’re not my teacher, Lupin. You don’t get to tell me off like I’m getting excluded. You never taught me shit.”
“No one has, Harry! You’ve probably developed years of coping mechanisms for your magical abilities, most of which are likely harmful not only to you but to the people around you. You need proper training, from proper instructors.”
“Moony,” Black said, low. “Might be a bit hypocritical, mate.”
“They taught me fine,” Harry spat. “Hermione’s got me doing fucking coursework, and you don’t know anything about me.”
Across the tent, Neville caught a mug that spilled over the side of the table. Then another.
“Harry,” Hermione said softly.
Harry forced himself to do the deep breathing thing. They had been doing a good job training him up, and he couldn’t give these wankers any reason to think otherwise.
“I think we’re done for the night,” Black said, jerking his head towards the door. “Moony, mind checking our tent? I’ll be along.”
Lupin, scowling, ducked out of the tent.
“It’s not often I’m the one talking him down,” Black said, looking bemused. “Usually it’s more ‘Padfoot, don’t eat out of bins!’ This is an unusual dynamic for us.”
Harry sat down on the sofa and crossed his arms tightly over his chest. He looked at his knees. He didn’t want to look anyone in the face. God, fuck, why did these arseholes have to come in and ruin everything? Sure, they saved their lives, or whatever, but then with all the ruining everything.
Black got up from the table, carefully passing his mug to Neville with a nod of thanks.
“I think he has it in his head you’re still those snot-nosed kids he taught, years ago. What were you all, twelve? He’s… protective.” Black stood by the door, hands in his pockets. “I wouldn’t blame you if you fucked off in the night, all right? We haven’t put wards down to stop you, or anything like that. You could leave if you wanted.” Black scuffed his foot on the floor. He looked, in the low light, strangely young. “Just give us a chance, yeah? We can talk a bit tomorrow. You’ve done a shitload of good for the cause already, and I bet you’re raring for more. We can help you.”
“We’ll think about it,” Harry said, before Hermione could cheerily agree to stay put just because she was an utter swot and apparently couldn’t shake the need for the approval from authority figures.
“And I don’t care what Remus said, your Thicknesse caper was ballsy as hell. Top marks from me.” Black flashed a grin, then ducked out of the tent.
Harry looked at the door for a long moment. “I’m just going to, uh,” he said, and then booked it to the bedroom before he had to finish the sentence.
Draco was sulking on his bed, reading a book by wandlight. He glanced up at Harry and then straight back at his book, jaw tense.
“Bully for them,” Draco said dryly, and turned a page.
Shit. Harry felt like an idiot. Just because they’d — well. He turned his back on Draco and started getting ready for bed, his cheeks burning. How could he have been so stupid? It was his own fault for getting, whatever, invested.
“Potter, what are you doing?”
“Ice fishing,” Harry snapped. He turned around, and Draco was holding up one arm, looking expectant. All the fight drained out of him. “I don’t… I don’t know what that means.”
“It means come here, you twerp.” Draco’s mouth rose up on one side.
“Oh,” Harry said, and shuffled closer. He felt weird, doing this with Draco looking right at him. He climbed into bed and fit himself carefully along Draco’s side. His bed was narrow, but they were both a bit skinny and it felt all right. Draco smelled of soap and skin. Harry wanted to put his face into Draco’s warm neck and close his eyes, but that felt a little impossible so he just pressed his nose to Draco’s jumper.
Hermione woke with the sun, which was not really saying very much considering the sun did not rise until half eight. Ron snuffled in his sleep, turned over, but didn’t wake as she scrambled down the ladder into the living room. The tent was still in the cold morning, and Hermione layered her socks and jumpers until she felt sufficiently bundled for the windy coast.
The sun spread orange fingers across the sky. Hermione’s breath came in misty white clouds. She looked over the sea, over the wide spread of rocky earth and felt her heart just clench. It was strange to love a place she’d never been. This seaside field was Neville’s contribution, an area too popular for warm weather but good enough for wet December. There was no rain today: just clear, icy skies and the sparse grass whipping in the wind. Hermione had no memories here, but she felt an odd sense of familiarity all the same.
Lupin ducked out of his tent and Hermione lifted her hand in a wave. “Good morning, Professor.”
“Sirius has made it clear that if we’re going to be treating you like adults, I need to stop thinking of you as my students,” Lupin said, polishing his glasses with a worn handkerchief. “Perhaps we ought to keep it to Christian names.” Hermione blanched, and Lupin laughed. “I quite agree, to be honest. But let’s humour him, shall we? Last night did not go over very well.”
“You saved our lives.”
“Aside from that.”
“Harry will come around,” Hermione said firmly, as she had about forty times over the past few months.
“Are you quite certain about that, Miss Granger?” Lupin looked as carefully mild as he had during lessons.
“Hermione,” Hermione corrected. God, that felt strange. She covered up her wince with a laugh. “And yes. Leave them to me.”
Lupin smiled. “You always were a very clever person, Hermione, but the quality I liked most about you was that right there. So determined. You’d see something through or you would die trying.”
“You were the best Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher we ever had. I’ve been trying to imitate your lessons.”
Lupin ducked his head. “I’m glad to know I rate higher than Gilderoy Lockhart.”
Hermione moved on quickly; Lupin looked deeply uncomfortable. “We need to work on our Patronuses, as you may have noticed last night. An experienced teacher would be very helpful.”
Lupin nodded slowly, looking out over the horizon. “I see. Do you think your compatriots would agree?”
“Well,” Hermione allowed. Of course most of them wouldn’t mind at all, but Lupin was not talking about most of them. “I think he’d feel better if he wasn’t being singled out.”
Hermione hauled everyone from their beds within the hour, and they assembled in front of the tents to have a go at making their Patronuses slightly less wildly unreliable. Harry dragged his feet and clutched his wand with a belligerently clenched jaw, but he stood next to Draco and didn’t storm off, which was honestly better than Hermione had expected.
“I always liked the Patronus,” Black said. He stood next to his tent with the air of someone who ought to be leaning against a wall or sitting rakishly backwards on chair. “It’s like a cuddly personality profile.”
Harry glared in his direction. “What d’you get then, a polo pony? A gundog?”
Wind whipped Ginny’s hair back like a red flag. “I’ve always thought I was horsey. Ready to kick in any direction.”
“I wonder what I’ll get,” Neville said. “My Patronus hasn’t ever been corporeal. You don’t suppose anyone gets something really awful, do you? I’d hate to be, like, a flobberworm. Or a hamster.”
“I’m keen on white mist,” Draco drawled. “Really says everything you need to know about me. Can’t be bothered to have more of a shape than that.”
Ginny had no trouble at all — her horse sprung forth from her wand looking solid enough to touch. After that, Lupin had her walking around with him, adjusting grips and giving encouragement. Hermione was doing middling with her flimsy otter, and Ron and Luna quite well, but neither Neville nor Harry had managed anything corporeal after half an hour. Draco’s white cloud had wings, which was more than it had had an hour ago.
“That’s good,” Lupin said, as Draco’s slightly winged something flew around his head. “That shows a lot of progress.”
Draco didn’t say anything, but Hermione saw his ears go pink in a pleased sort of way.
Harry tried again, his back firmly turned on Lupin. An enormous quantity of white mist poured from his wand and swamped him like a friendly London pea souper.
“I’m not sure what the problem is,” Hermione said to Lupin in a low voice. “Sometimes there’s a shape and sometimes there isn’t, but it never fully solidifies.”
“My educated guess is that it’s his happy memory. He doesn’t trust it.” Lupin pulled his mouth to one side. “I don’t think he’ll trust me telling him that, either.”
“I don’t suppose we could just send him to therapy, could we?” Lupin fixed her with a rueful look, and Hermione sighed. “I suppose not. How do we get him to trust it?”
“He could choose a memory that’s uncomplicated, but I expect that would be difficult for him.”
Hermione watched as Ron clapped Harry on the back, made a joke that had him relaxing his glare for the first time that morning. “For now,” she said. “I think he’s getting there.”
Harry’s low-grade headache began when Lupin and Black came stampeding into their lives and had not retreated in the two days since. He wasn’t sleeping well; he kept having dreams about snakes and disintegrating country manors. Patronus practice was communal on the first day, but the next morning Lupin approached him after breakfast to see about additional lessons. Harry, distracted by his head, agreed without thinking about it, like a total fucking idiot.
They stood in the middle of the field. Lupin was keeping himself in very careful check, his whole body contained to a square foot of space like he was afraid to crowd Harry.
“What now,” Harry said. He regretted agreeing to this bullshit. Magic aside, he felt like he’d been called to see the head teacher.
Lupin surveyed him calmly. “What has Hermione taught you about the Patronus Charm?”
“Ginny taught me,” Harry snapped, and then scuffed his trainer in the grass. He wasn’t sure why he’d yelled about that. There wasn’t a reason for it. It was a safe assumption to think Hermione had taught him. She had been the one to tell him about the charm in the first place. “Er, Hermione said it was like a shield, you know, for Dementors.”
Lupin nodded. “In a sense. A Patronus is not only a shield but is itself a sort of Anti-Dementor: it forms from your capacity for love, happiness, hope. Your Patronus is a guardian. It cannot feel despair, and thus a Dementor cannot feed upon it.”
“Okay.” Harry folded his arms over his chest. “Can it think for itself? Like, is it, uh. Sentient?”
“A Patronus can relay messages for you, can find people, can drive off Dark creatures, but it isn’t alive in a traditional sense. Theories differ on its sentience.” Lupin waited to see if Harry would speak again, and when he didn’t, he continued. “The Patronus Charm is very difficult magic, Harry, far beyond the Ordinary Wizarding Level. There are many accomplished witches and wizards who struggle with it.”
Oh for fuck’s sake. Harry rolled his eyes and tried to keep from exploding nearby plant matter. “So people keep bloody telling me. How does that help? Jesus.”
Lupin hid a smile behind a hand, poorly. “All right. I’ll stop telling you. Now your memory — I expect Miss Weasley told you it had to be happy? It has to be powerfully happy. Imagine a memory with weight. Heft. A memory without any holes. Without any sinking little bits of sadness, if you can. Or with the sinking bits pushed to the side, not strong enough to compete with the memory itself.”
Harry looked out towards the tents. A memory with weight. Nothing from before London, then. Last time the pub had almost done it. “What’s your Patronus?” he asked, stalling for time. “I was unconscious the other night. Never saw it.”
“Ah,” Lupin said. He went a little red. “It’s a wolf.”
“And that’s… bad?” Harry couldn’t see how. Wolves were sick.
“It reveals… more about me than I generally prefer to let on.”
“Oh, because you’re a werewolf?”
Lupin coughed, looking wrong-footed for the first time that morning. “Merlin. Uh, yes. The others informed you, I gather?”
“Hermione said she guessed when you were her teacher. She’s well pleased to be right.”
“Ah,” Lupin said, shaking his head a little. “Well. Werewolves are not overly popular in the wizarding world.”
Hermione had told him that too. “Sucks,” Harry attempted. “Like — not that your life sucks. I guess? I don’t fucking know your life.” Harry turned away, hunching in on himself. Fucking Lupin. He wanted to go back to the tent and do embarrassing soft things with Draco and never see Black or Lupin ever again.
“I try to keep perspective on the matter. Sirius helps,” Lupin said, and then laughed a little. “Your father used to call it my ‘furry little problem’ in company.”
Harry’s stomach jolted. He hadn’t been able to stop thinking about the fact that Lupin and Black knew his parents, but hearing about James Potter talking, being in company, being alive — that was something altogether different.
“Would you like to have another go at the charm, Harry?”
Harry realised he’d been being oddly surly and quiet for a lot longer than was normal in a conversation, even for him. “Whatever,” he said.
“A powerful, joyful memory,” Lupin reminded him.
Harry heroically did not punch Lupin in the face, and instead closed his eyes. A powerful, joyful memory. He thought about kicking the Quaffle around with Ron after dark, both of them swearing profusely every time they kicked it out of bounds and couldn’t find the bloody thing. He thought about Draco holding him, hands in his hair, calling him an absolute knob and not letting go. He thought about Jane and Cynthia’s conservatory, how warm it was on the rainy night and how Draco kept kicking him under the table. He thought… Fuck. Even if this whole thing went tits up, even if Voldemort offed him in two months after all the work everyone put in training Harry up, it would have been worth it.
“Expecto Patronum,” Harry said, and his wand nearly vibrated in his fingers as a dazzling silver animal galloped into being, jutting antlers and pounding hooves. The stag galloped through the windswept grass in a wide circle, finally coming to a stop in front of Harry and staring at him with wide shining eyes.
“Shit,” he said. “Okay. I guess they weren’t lying, then — you’re an all-around not-crap teacher, Lupin.”
“Thank you, Harry,” Lupin said, in a strange sort of voice.
The stag vanished. Harry stared at the place where it had been. “We’ll see if I can manage it with an actual Dementor, I guess.” Harry put his wand in his pocket. “Seems a bit harder.”
“The more familiar you are with accessing that joyful place inside yourself, the easier it will be under pressure.” Lupin took a breath. “I’m not sure how — Harry, what did Hermione and the others tell you about Animagi?”
Harry thought back to the debrief after they had left the Parkinsons. He’d been a bit distracted, having just snogged Draco against a tree, but there had been something about Black finding Lupin at Hogwarts and hunting down Peter Pettigrew, who was extracurricularly a rat. “A bit,” he said. “They said that Black and, uh. Pettigrew and my dad — they learned how to go all… furry… at Hogwarts, right?”
“At Hogwarts in the sense of that was our geographical location, yes.”
“Pretty fucking nerdy rebellion, mate. Hermione says it’s really bloody illegal and that you all had to have studied for, like, years.”
“Well, yes,” Lupin agreed. “I mean to say — did they tell you what their Animagi forms were?”
“Black’s a dog, yeah? And Pettigrew was a rat, which seems like a pretty big bloody warning. And my dad…” Harry trailed off. “No one said.”
“He turned into a stag,” Lupin said. He patted him on the shoulder and started off back towards the tent, which was kind and also showed he had a sense of self-preservation, because Harry’s eyes had gone hot and if Lupin had seen him cry even a little bit Harry would probably have tried out any of the many hexes he had learned in the past several months.
Draco was lying on the bed with a pulpy Muggle romance novel, blithely ignoring his responsibilities when Harry came barging in like a sulky uncoordinated hippogriff.
“Can I?” Harry nodded towards him jerkily. “Er, you know.”
“I don’t know, actually.” Draco put his book down. “Can you what?”
“Can I…” Harry trailed off, his face twisting in frustration.
“What are you on about, you idiot? Yes, probably, unless you’re interested in maiming or doing a little pre-supper murder.” Draco would never understand Harry Potter. He was a strange, beautiful feral little monster and Draco did not know why he had all these stupid feelings about how he tangled his hands up in his jumper.
Harry’s face twisted a little bit more and then he seemed to give up. He sat down on the edge of Draco’s bed, looking at him like he was expecting to get pushed off.
Draco pulled on the back of Harry’s jumper until he collapsed backwards. He felt a hot little thrill at being allowed to do that, to touch him, to run a hand through his horrible hair. He was allowed to arrange Harry’s limbs until he was pressed up against him, his face jammed into Draco’s neck. Draco wanted to pull Harry right into his body so he could never leave him. Merlin fuck, it was horrible. Draco felt all soft and open like Harry could dip his hand right through Draco’s soppy ribs and pick out his heart.
Harry’s eyes were a little bit wet. Draco wanted to hunt down everyone who had ever hurt him and make them suffer, slowly and over a long period of time.
“You want to not talk about it?”
“Tell me about your crap book,” Harry said, mumbled into Draco’s skin. His breath came out in warm huffs, and Draco’s heart threatened to beat right out of his body.
“Fine,” Draco said, and began to tell him about what Muggles apparently called vikings and who were clearly sex terrorists.
Black sat on a rock, looking over the fog and the sea. Wind whipped his long hair back like a dark candle. Harry looked down at the torn photograph in his hands, James and Lily Potter, Godric’s Hollow, January 1980, and then strode forward before he could think better of it.
“Harry?” Black squinted up at him.
Harry shoved the ripped paper into his hands. “Hermione found it in a book.”
Black looked down at the picture. “Merlin,” he said, running a finger over the beaming faces of Harry’s parents. “In a book, really?”
Harry didn’t say anything. He looked out at the ocean, wide and pitiless. He wanted to take the picture back. He wanted to grab it and run as fast as he could out over the fields and never come back.
“I took this,” Black said finally, his voice rough. “It was Remus’s camera but he was always self-conscious about using it, for some reason.”
Harry sat down gingerly, a careful distance from Black.
Black continued, not paying Harry any mind. “James was so excited to have a house. They’d been living in this shitty flat in London the size of a loo and when Lily found out she was pregnant she said if they stayed there your cot would have to be the kitchen sink. James would have bought the first house he saw, I think. He never cared much about that sort of thing. Lily had more sense.”
The salt wind stung Harry’s eyes. He felt very far away from his body.
“They were so happy. Cooped up in that cottage, covered in nappies and sick, in the middle of a war and they were so happy.” Black wiped his face. “Fucking hell. Now you’ve got me wanging on.”
“Do you have more pictures,” Harry said. He could barely recognise his voice. “Of my, er. Of my parents.”
“Remus does,” Black said quickly, darting a look over at Harry. “He kept all the albums for both of us. I was, you know, a bit incarcerated and didn’t… Anyway. I can — you could come and look, if you’d like.”
Harry nodded shortly. “Fine.”
Black stood up, and Harry followed him to the tent.
Hermione wasn’t sure what caused the détente between Sirius and Harry, but she did welcome the sudden lack of snarling and the severely diminished sullen silence. Harry still sometimes watched Remus and Sirius with sharp, suspicious eyes, but he was no longer shouting at the slightest provocation, so Hermione counted it as a win.
On their fourth day in Wales, Hermione began to feel the odd prickle on the back of her neck that meant it was time to move on. She was not always sure what set it off — a good half of the time it was probably only nerves — but it didn’t do them any good to stay put. She needed to go and see Sirius and Remus.
She had not actually set foot inside their tent before. It felt odd, like visiting a professor’s room inside of Hogwarts. She knew professors had to live somewhere but it felt somewhat disrespectful to even imagine where. She had a brief, terrifying image of Professor McGonagall in a dressing gown and ducked into Sirius and Remus’s tent.
“Er, hello? I would have knocked, but it’s rather difficult with canvas.”
The tent interior was small and severely dated — with the shag carpet and mustard yellow sofa, it looked straight out of 1976. It was also, notably, empty. Hermione knocked on some wood panelling.
There was a clattering from the back of the tent, and then what was presumably the bedroom door opened. “Hermione?” Remus’s glasses were askew, and his hair mussed.
Merlin and Morgana. Hermione devoutly wished for the ground to swallow her whole. Maybe she could run out over the cliff and jump into the sea. “Hello,” she said. “I’ll, er, come back a bit later, shall I?”
“That’s quite all right,” Remus said, adjusting his glasses. “Just — just a moment.”
Hermione stood in the doorway and looked intently at the kitchen. Surely nothing on earth was as fascinating as the way the green backsplash clashed with the wooden cupboards. Absolutely no thoughts at all could intrude upon anyone’s mind when they were examining what appeared to be a red and orange floral rice cooker. Remus Lupin and Sirius Black owned a red and orange floral rice cooker. If she still had an in at the Daily Prophet she’d put that on the front page. Breaking News: Noted Murderer Sirius Black Enjoys Floral Kitchen Appliances.
“So sorry,” Remus said, emerging from the bedroom with his hair in order and a very red complexion.
Sirius followed, stretching his neck languidly. “As much as I’d like to have an unbearably awkward conversation with a teenaged rebel leader, I think I’ll have a shower. Moony?”
“Yes, of course, by all means avoid this whole thing. I’ll speak to Hermione,” Remus said, waving him off. Sirius disappeared into the bathroom, snickering.
Hermione looked desperately at the kitchen. “You have a rice cooker.”
“Oh? Yes. Sirius loves Muggle cooking things, for some reason. Lily used to give them to us and he’d never know how to use anything. He used to put bananas in that to try and make banana bread.”
Hermione frowned. That really wasn’t — she hoped they knew how to clean it properly.
“Not that you aren’t, er, very welcome here, Hermione, but was there something you wanted to discuss?”
Hermione tore her eyes away from the banana-polluted rice cooker. “Oh. Yes. We need to move on. This area is too popular with walkers, and we’ve been in one place long enough.”
“I see,” Remus said. “Well, if you would consider it, we have a safe house. Several, actually — scattered all over the country. Sirius’s house in London is under Fidelius. Unplottable, anti-Apparition jinxes. The works. It’s our main headquarters and there’s a tremendous amount of room, albeit slightly infested with… Pureblood nonsense.”
Hermione shook her head. “Not yet. Harry’s not… Give me until the new year.”
Remus took a deep breath. He seemed to be fighting his professor face and was only mostly successful. “The longer you stay undefended —”
“We’ve been at this for months,” Hermione reminded him firmly. Remus Lupin had a floral rice cooker; he was not about to intimidate her at this juncture. “Although we appreciate the help, of course, we are very capable of handling ourselves. We do intend on joining up with you but we need another week, that’s all. One week and I’ll bring Harry to London if I have to drag him myself.”
Remus looked at her for a long moment and then nodded. “All right. Would you like a cup of tea?”
Hermione mostly wanted to run back to her own tent, bury her face in Ron’s shoulder and confess everything she had seen and inferred from the last fifteen minutes, but that would be unbearably impolite. “Yes, thanks,” she said, and sat down gingerly at the small olive green laminate table.
They stared down at their tea and made awkward small talk about lessons, Ordinary Wizarding Levels and the weather. Eventually, Sirius emerged from the bathroom with damp hair and wandered over to check in.
Sirius nodded as Remus explained Hermione’s plan, and then reached over the table to take a sip from Remus’s mug. “Might make it easier if we buggered off for a bit, Moony. Gave him a chance to unclench a bit.”
Hermione looked up at him, a little surprised. She hadn’t thought Sirius was a very insightful person, originally. “That’s actually not a terrible idea.”
Sirius barked a laugh. “Thank you for your resounding tone of confidence, fearless infant leader. I do have some decent ideas. Not many, mind, but they do come to me, and my geriatric brain.”
“I can think of a few winners,” Remus said dryly, taking his mug back from Sirius with a wry shake of his head. “Attempting human transfiguration with Benjy Fenwick being one real precious gem.”
Sirius waved a hand. “Benjy’s nose was fine eventually, don’t be dramatic.”
“Benjy had a beak for three and a half months, Sirius.”
“Which was, number one, hilarious, and number two, very hilarious.”
Hermione propped her chin up on one hand and thought about how Sirius Black had been in Azkaban since he was in his early twenties and probably had not had a lot of emotional room for maturation in the traditional sense.
“We’ll go back to our headquarters for a few days,” Remus said, pointedly talking over Sirius continuing his story about Benjy Fenwick’s temporary beak. “You can come to us after, or we can meet you — you know how to contact us.”
“Our owl is out on delivery at the minute but yes, that shouldn’t be a problem.” Hermione traced the laminate. “Harry’s been… Better. I wanted to thank you.”
“The first time I held Harry he pissed on me.” Sirius grinned crookedly. “I deserve a lot of thanks.”
Before Hermione left the tent, Remus handed her note. “Just in case,” he said. “I don’t suppose I have to tell you not to lose that.”
Hermione unfolded the scrap of parchment. The headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix may be found at number twelve, Grimmauld Place, London.
Remus and Sirius Disapparated that evening, just before Hermione and the others packed up the tent and Apparated to the Forest of Dean. Everything was just the same as she remembered: stately oak trees and the crisp scent of pine needles, the soft drift of moonlight through dense branches, the sense of ancient memory. Of course, the last time she had been here it had not been winter. Hermione touched the bark of the old trees, remembering camping with her mum and dad. They fussed so much over sterilising the water. They’d never trust Hermione’s sterilising charms now; they’d be boiling water in pots and lecturing her about cholera.
As mortifying as the last few hours with them had been, Hermione missed Sirius and Remus. She felt a bit unmoored. It was all on their shoulders again.
The day dawned mild and gusty, the tent whipping in the wind. Draco woke to the sound of creaking trees, the blustery sway of the tent and low mumbles from Potter, who tossed and turned in his bunk. Draco got up, hissing at the cold floor on his bare feet, and crept towards Potter’s bed.
“No,” Harry muttered. “Don’t — don’t…”
Draco’s stomach twisted. He reached out and brushed the hair from Potter’s wrinkled forehead. His frown smoothed under the passage of Draco’s hand. He did it again, smoothing the rumpled tangles back.
“Draco?” Harry blinked up at him, bleary and confused.
“Nightmare,” Draco said softly. “You were making a racket, Potter. Disturbing my beauty sleep.”
“Some beauty,” Harry snorted. His eyes fluttered shut. Draco stroked the skin of his forehead again, and Harry sighed.
Neville let out a wheezy bellow of a snore and Draco startled, yanking his hand back. What the fuck was it about Potter that made him forget about his surroundings? This was — this was untoward, and unjust, and unseemly.
“You shouldn’t sleep too long,” Draco said gruffly, folding his arms over his chest. “It’s Christmas.”
Harry batted his hand in Draco’s direction and then pulled the duvet up over his shoulders, a silly little smile on his face. Draco left their room before he did something daft like climb in bed with him, or in any other way be so obviously gagging for it that he wanted to incinerate his entire body.
Luna sat at the kitchen table wearing pyjamas printed with green and red giraffes. She held a large mug that steamed gently in the cool air. “Good morning, Draco. Would you like to help me decorate?”
“No,” Draco said.
“That’s unfortunate for you,” Luna said sympathetically, and set him to transfiguring small, melted-down candles into larger ones.
Luna transfigured twigs and pebbles into evergreen branches and glowing baubles, set glowing lights all along the ceiling and enlarged a red hair ribbon to tie around the inglenook fireplace like a giant gift. Ron and Ginny woke up and stumbled blearily out into the cold to find something they could transfigure into a tree. This turned out to be an actual tree, ripped somehow from the ground and tracking dirt into the tent.
“I’m taking the morning off,” Hermione informed them, wrapped in an enormous dressing gown with her nose stuck into a tattered Muggle magazine. “You’re taking care of that.”
“I’ll give her ten minutes,” Harry told Draco in an undertone. He’d woken up halfway through the candles project and had been distracting Draco ever since.
“Five,” Draco said. There was dirt everywhere, and Ron and Ginny had yet to figure out what to do with the roots.
In the end, Hermione lasted seven minutes before throwing aside her magazine and huffily showing Ron and Ginny how to set up a Christmas tree properly. In the end, Ginny was sulking, Hermione had pine needles in her hair and Luna had taken over Hermione’s magazine.
“I’ve discovered my new favourite band,” Luna announced, waving the glossy pages.
Draco raised an eyebrow. “From a Muggle magazine? They don’t even include the songs.”
“I don’t need to hear the music to know,” Luna told him, and tilted the magazine to show Draco the picture, which was a convincing argument and honestly, fair play to everyone involved.
Hermione leaned over to see, and then sniffed. “That magazine’s from ages ago. Your new favourite band broke up last year.”
“Oh no,” Luna sighed, stroking the picture. “I’ll always remember you.”
“There’s a support line you can ring, I believe.”
Harry came up behind Draco to get a look, one hand on Draco’s shoulder. “Oh my god,” he said, laughing. “There are also a few music videos that can really illuminate your sexuality for you, if you’re interested.”
Hermione glanced at Harry. “Oh really?”
“Don’t tell me you missed those.”
Draco wrinkled his nose. “What is a… music video?”
“My kingdom for a telly,” Harry said. “Someday you’re in for a real awakening, mate.”
Aunt Petunia had never been what anyone might call a level-headed woman, and Christmas certainly never helped matters much. Every year Petunia would lose her entire shit about the schedule, and the particularities of the prawn cocktail, and whether her napkin rings were too gaudy. Harry, as resident indentured servant and convenient object of shouting, would be pressed into service for all and sundry. He would slice parsnips and mash turnips, he would lay the table no less than three separate times, and then he’d be relegated to a folding table sort of to the side of the whole affair with a selection of very dry turkey and the odd carrot during the actual meal. When Harry grew in stature and surliness, he became increasingly uncooperative and as a result would be locked in his room for the duration.
He was finding Christmas in the tent a bit overwhelming, as a result.
Halfway through the meal — turkey sandwiches, as Hermione wouldn’t let Ginny steal a whole bird from the shop — Harry excused himself and ducked into the boys’ bedroom.
In October Hermione had enchanted a bit of the tent wall into a facsimile of a window. She got tired of everyone sleeping until two in the afternoon, and hoped the natural light would encourage regular hours. Harry was grateful for the window now. The tent was so cramped, and everyone had been crammed around the kitchen table with no room to breathe. It felt good to look out at the woods, the cold glassy surface of the lake, the dry grass whipping in the wind.
The door creaked open, and Harry looked back to see Draco.
“Is this the sort of sulk where you’d quite like company, or the sort of sulk where you’d like me to fuck off?”
“Illuminating,” Draco said dryly. “Suppose I’ll stay, then.”
“Suit yourself.” Harry turned back to the window. Hogwarts had a lake. It got cold there, they said. Maybe it froze in the winter.
“Did your lake look like this?”
“Our estate didn’t have a lake. A few streams, and a decorative pond, but —”
“No, I meant your school. Hogwarts. It had a lake, right? The Big Lake, something like that?”
“The Great Lake,” Draco said.
Harry liked how Draco corrected him. Sometimes he was snooty and sometimes he was almost absent-minded, but it always felt like it was more about Draco than Harry himself. Draco loved being right about things more than he cared about Harry being wrong. He didn’t mind Harry being wrong, but he really loved being right.
“The Great Lake. Was it like this?”
Harry nodded. He hadn’t thought so. The Great Lake was probably a lot bigger, and grander, and more beautiful. Maybe more frightening. Ginny told him that merpeople lived there, and a giant squid. Probably nothing lived in this lake except fish.
Draco turned towards him and gripped his elbow, tight. He pushed their faces together. Harry’s glasses slipped down his nose and sort of knocked into Draco’s cheek and it all went wrong.
“Sorry,” Draco mumbled.
“’S’okay,” Harry mumbled back.
“Just let me…” Draco’s hand shook. He touched Harry’s shoulder, his neck, his jaw.
Harry’s eyes fluttered closed. It made it easier to lean in and press their mouths together.
At first, nothing. Soft skin, nervous breathing. And then Draco’s mouth opened and there was unbearable heat. Harry’s heart thudded painfully in his ribs like it was knocking to get out. Wet, and warm, and the scrape of teeth — they pressed together urgently, hands scrabbling under jumpers, hissing at the touch of cold fingers. Draco’s back, the hot skin underneath all the wool. Jutting spine and knocking hipbones. Harry’s brain vacated his entire body. He was nothing, he was touch and scent and skin.
“Harry,” Draco gasped, and Harry clutched him back, bit his lower lip hard.
The door squeaked — the fucking door, fucking hell. They broke apart with a wet sound and moved to opposite sides of the room.
“Hermione found Cluedo in the village,” Neville said blithely, blinking at them like a handsome cow. “Want to play?”
Harry couldn’t look at Draco. If he looked at Draco, he’d see if his lips had swollen, if he looked flushed, if his eyes were dilated.
“Sure,” Draco said, his voice cracking.
“Fine,” Harry said, roughly.
They played Cluedo. They played Cluedo, and stayed a careful distance from each other, and grunted at appropriate intervals. When it was time for bed they waited until Neville’s snores began wafting through the room before even looking at each other. Draco held up his arm. Harry knew what that meant now.
“Neville’s right there,” Harry whispered, once he was tucked under Draco’s duvet.
“We went to boarding school, Potter. Neville knows how to sleep through plenty of extracurricular dick-touching.”
Harry snorted. “Is that what’s happening?”
“Well, if you don’t want to,” Draco huffed, turning to his back.
“I didn’t say that.” It was easier to reach out in the dark. Draco’s body was warm under the duvet, his jumper thin and soft with holes at the elbows. He smelled good. Harry had to shut his eyes and press his face to Draco’s pillow for a moment.
“You all right?”
“Haven’t done this,” Harry mumbled.
“Really?” Draco turned towards him, and Harry pressed more of his face into the pillow. “You mean I’m the first one who gets to touch the chosen one’s dick?”
“Oh my fucking god, Draco, shut up.”
“You shut up. This is an important historical moment. I’m like King Arthur and your dick’s Excalibur.”
“My dick’s not stuck in a stone, arsehole.”
“The stone of virginity. It’s a metaphor, you dunce. You do know what a metaphor is, don’t you?”
“I got an A in GCSE English, thanks. Your school doesn’t even teach spelling, Hermione told me.”
“I don’t need to spell Excalibur to know that your dick is my sword in the stone.”
“This is a real fucking turn-off, mate.”
“Is it?” Draco eased his leg under Harry and pressed up, where evidence was decidedly to the contrary. “Mm, no. You like it.”
“Yeah, I get the major horn for Welsh legend,” Harry said, as sarcastically as he could manage. Draco had angled his thigh against him again, and Harry’s slightly broken voice did not help. “I’m seventeen. A stiff breeze does the trick.”
“Something’s certainly stiff, all right.” Draco got his hand under Harry and felt for the shape of him.
Harry did not whimper. He made a sound that could have been a whimper, if he were a totally different person. “That’s horrible,” he managed to gasp, and turned onto his side so Draco would have better access.
The owl was postmarked Christmas Eve, but Hedwig didn’t wing her way to their camp until Boxing Day. Hermione saw her swoop through the trees, a battered envelope tied to her talons, and ran for Ron. His letter went out last.
Hermione reminded herself that her parents were safe as houses in Australia, and that honestly she had a lot less to worry about in that respect than Ron and Ginny, whose families actually had to live in their current political climate. Thus fortified, she joined the others in the living room. Everyone gathered around Ron as he read aloud.
Dearest Ronniekins, and also our late sister Ginevra,
We hope you’re having a nice time saving the world. Mum’s still got hold of your ghouls but she’s furious about it. Christmas is a rotten state of affairs, what with Percy and you two so our most ardent thanks for the most uplifting Chrimbo of our lifetimes. We’ve been keeping busy, and if you get the chance to pop by Gambol and Japes you might find a certain innovative selection of sweets by yours truly.
Ron snorted. “It’s a joke shop,” he explained to Harry. “Fred and George have been inventing since they could wave a wand. Even before.”
“Keep reading,” Ginny said impatiently, making a grab for the parchment.
Ron dodged his sister, keeping her to the side with one long arm. “That’s not all. Have you got a wireless out in the heroic wilds? If so —” Ron squinted down at the letter, his eyes darting from side to side as he read. “It’s about eight o’clock, right? Where’s the bloody wireless? Somebody get the wireless, quick.”
Neville unearthed the radio from underneath an avalanche of scarves and brought it over at a run.
“There are instructions,” Ron muttered, tapping at the radio with his wand. “Might be too late, but let’s see…”
“Instructions for what,” demanded Ginny. She made another grab for the letter.
Hermione yanked the letter from Ron and examined the contents. “This could be old,” she said. “We don’t know how often they change the password. Are you doing the pattern right?”
“Yes,” Ron grunted, trying again. He muttered a string of words under his breath.
Luna frowned. “Are you admonishing the wireless for something? Is that a new swear?”
Harry looked at Draco, confused. “Is this a wizard thing?”
“Not one that I know,” Draco drawled. “What are you doing, Weasley?”
“Hush,” Hermione said, reading over the letter again. “It might be nothing, just be patient.”
Ron tried, and tried again. Hermione was just about to push him — gently, lovingly — out of the way so she could see if he was doing it wrong when the radio crackled to life, and a voice boomed from the speakers. “… pleased to welcome two of our regular contributors to the airwaves, Royal and Robin.”
Hermione gasped. There was no mistaking Lee Jordan’s familiar voice, the tone of it or the way he always sounded slightly amused. He could have been announcing the Quidditch. She hadn’t thought of him since Hogwarts.
“We have sad news to report: another Muggle family has been found dead, this time in Winterslow. Their deaths have been attributed to a gas leak, as usual, but we know better, don’t we, Royal?”
“I’m afraid so, River. I’d like to remind our listeners that very simple protection charms over their Muggle neighbours could prove the difference between life and death. Muggle killing for sport is on the rise.”
“Holy shit,” Ron said, blinking down at the wireless.
“Shut up, Ron,” Ginny said, elbowing him to the side so she could crank up the volume.
Lee Jordan’s voice fairly blared through the tent. “Following the recent pro-Potter edition of the Quibbler, editor Xenophilius Lovegood has now been imprisoned, along with the W.W.N’s Gil Catchlove and journalist Oliver Barnes.”
“Oh,” Luna said, her large eyes glittering in the low light. “That explains why Daddy didn’t answer my last letter.”
“I’m sorry, Luna,” Hermione said, reaching out to touch her hand.
“That’s all right,” Luna said. “He’s still alive.”
Hermione spared a thought for her parents in Australia. Wendell and Monica Wilkins didn’t have to worry about a visit from the Death Eaters, didn’t need a protection charm over their house. She was glad for that. She was also glad that Luna had a special proclivity for lying, and there was minimal chance Xenophilius Lovegood knew much more about his daughter’s whereabouts than the Grangers knew about Hermione.
“Thanks for the updates, Royal. Let’s move on to our perennial subject: the search for the Boy Who Lived. Robin? Any new sightings of Harry Potter?”
Harry jolted. His face went slightly pale. In a move Draco clearly thought was subtle, he edged closer and pressed their shoulders together.
“Harry Potter himself has not been spotted,” Robin admitted, “But I’m sure we all remember the little addition to the Daily Prophet last month? Potter Lives! He and his band of helpers managed to get the word out, and it’s our job now to carry on.”
“Indeed, and those messages have been popping up all over Britain, have they not?”
“You said it. Train stations, toilets, walls all over Diagon Alley. There was mural in Godric’s Hollow for about three hours.” The correspondent laughed. “Word from Hogwarts is that it’s recently been scrawled all over the third floor corridor.”
Hermione turned away, wiping her eyes. “Sorry,” she muttered, wringing her hands. “God, I just — it makes such a difference, doesn’t it?”
The radio crackled and continued on, Lee Jordan’s familiar voice uncharacteristically serious. “What do you have to say to Harry Potter and his friends, if they’re listening?”
“Well, I’d just like them to know that we’re all with them. They’re not alone. There’s help out there if they know where to ask. And to Harry: welcome home.”
“Sorry it’s in such a state,” added Royal. “We’ll be pleased to meet you.”
“That’s all for Potterwatch today, listeners. We don’t know when we’ll be able to broadcast next, but keep twiddling those dials: we’ll be back. The password will be ‘Albus’. Keep each other safe: Keep faith. Good night.”
Voices faded into white noise, and Neville switched the wireless off. Hermione didn’t quite know what to say. To hear that they’d helped, that they’d really done something — her eyes flooded and spilled over. Potter Lives. She wanted to find the person who had left that message in a toilet cubicle near that Muggle university and send them flowers. Of course the graffiti wasn’t about them, not really, but they’d helped. They’d helped.
“Let’s go to London.”
Hermione wiped her eyes and looked at Harry, shocked.
“I mean it,” he said, jaw set. “Let’s go. Let’s see what the Order of the Phoenix has got going on.”
Harry nodded curtly. “Yeah, but with one request.”
Hermione examined Harry. He didn’t look worked up: a bit grey, and brittle around the chin. Nothing in the tent was shaking, anyway. “If it’s reasonable.”
“We don’t stay with them. We find our own place. At least at first.”
“All right,” Hermione said. Her nerves wouldn’t love being in such a populated place and not in a protected area, but it was always more difficult to find a wand in a woodpile. It wasn’t an impossible request, and if it got them all to meet with Professor McGonagall, possibly, it was worth it.
“London,” Ginny said, grinning. “Brilliant.”
“Hampstead Heath again?” asked Neville.
“So many nettles,” groaned Ron. “I’d rather with less nettles.”
Harry raised one hand. “I’ve got an idea,” he said.
Harry had explained their destination to Hermione and Ron as best he could, but he didn’t fully believe it would work until they Apparated directly onto the platform. Harry didn’t even fall over this time, which was an unexpected plus considering how filthy the tiling was.
“I don’t like this much,” Ginny said, her face tense.
“I do,” Hermione said. “This was a brilliant plan, Harry. I’d never have thought of the Underground, and this is fairly close to their headquarters! No rain, as well. Obviously it’s a bit depressing, but one can’t have everything.”
“This is really King’s Cross?” Ron looked around the tunnel skeptically. “Looks not… as good.”
“King’s Cross York Road. It was shut down like fifty years ago.” Harry looked around at the chipped walls, the graffiti, the dust. Grimy Flatmate had been obsessed with ghost stations; he was glad those droning hours over too much White Lightning hadn’t been entirely wasted.
“I wonder if we’ll see a dragon,” Luna mused.
“Uh,” Harry said, looking down the dark tunnel.
“They’re more scared of you than you are of them,” Neville said, with an encouraging smile.
“They breathe fire, yeah? And I’ve just got a magic stick made of wood so that seems… Unlikely.”
“There aren’t any dragons in the Underground, Luna,” Hermione sighed, pulling tent poles out of her handbag.
Luna smiled. “You’ll feel very silly when we’re overrun by Welsh Greens in the middle of the night.”
“Is this area really structurally sound?” Draco looked up at the curved ceiling, nose wrinkled. “It seems to be missing great hunks of rock all over — there.”
“If everyone could stop whinging and help a little bit,” Hermione said, looking pointedly at the tent poles.
Harry made his security charms extra strong, just in case Hermione was wrong about the Welsh Greens. Hermione had not been wrong once since Harry had met her, but he didn’t want to take any chances with flying murderous Zippos.
Draco Malfoy was seventeen years old. He had exactly zero N.E.W.T.s, twenty-seven galleons and a wardrobe that was quickly beginning to run towards moth-eaten. He was currently living in a tent in the Muggle Underthingy, in a tunnel that looked like it was half a breath from absolute collapse. If eleven-year-old Draco saw him now he would be revolted and probably would assume he had head lice.
Draco Malfoy also had Harry Potter in his bed, sleepy-eyed with his hair all over the place, so. That wasn’t nothing.
“Neville’s going to wake up,” Harry murmured into Draco’s mouth.
“I cannot possibly overstate how little I care.” Draco touched Harry’s cheek a little roughly, maybe. He looked good.
“Yeah, fuck it,” Harry said. When he laughed his head tilted back, and Draco busied himself biting the skin.
“Not the fluxweed,” Neville muttered, turning over in his bunk. “No, the Flutterby Bush.”
Draco pulled his hand out of Harry’s pyjama bottoms. “Uh.”
“Yeah, bit of a mood-dampener,” Harry agreed, rolling to his back. “Want to go for a walk?”
“In the creepy dark tunnel? No thanks.”
Harry pulled him out of bed anyway, and because Draco was a sucker, he got dressed and followed him obligingly out of the tent. Hermione was on watch, reading a thick book next to the watch lantern.
“We’re going on a walk,” Harry announced.
“Are you?” Hermione looked up, eyebrows raised. “Sounds unlikely.”
“We need to see the way out of the tunnel; get a sense for the surrounding area. We won’t be long.”
Hermione squinted up at them. “This is stupid. If you get separated again —”
“We’re not going to,” Harry said. “C’mon, Hermione. I’m the one who knows about this place. Better waste our time now than later, yeah?”
Hermione frowned. “Fine. But if you’re not back within the hour you’re doing the washing up for months.”
Flickering Muggle lights illuminated the tunnel as they walked. Draco would never get used to the way Muggles lit things: he was used to the warm glow of gas-light, the yellow flicker of candle-flame. Muggles seemed to enjoy a sickly bluish white glare. It made Draco feel a bit ill.
“You take me to the nicest places,” Draco said. He was trying not to breathe through his nose.
“Just give it a minute,” Harry said, and Draco gave it a minute, because he was a soft touch and should be ashamed of himself.
A dot of light ahead grew larger as they walked until Draco could see where the tunnel opened up. Graffiti thickened along the brick until finally they were standing in open air, looking out over a rail-yard littered with abandoned metal detritus.
“Nice,” Harry said, beaming. “We’re not far at all.”
“I cannot fucking believe this is my life,” Draco said. He was standing in a murky puddle of what smelled like spilled petrol and looked like iridescent sick. The sky felt even lower than the tunnel, weirdly: grey and pressing down on his head. Draco wanted to cover his face. He wanted to go home. This was rubbish. His shoes were ruined and he’d never be able to afford new ones, and Harry Potter was an assault on Draco’s emotional integrity, and this was his life.
Harry’s smile faded. “What’s with you?”
“Nothing,” Draco spat out. He tried to move his shoes to a non-petrol area and knelt to see if he could siphon off some of the liquid. “These are bloody ruined, that’s all.”
“Okay? They’re just shoes.”
“These are dragon-leather. They’re meant to last for decades.” Decades of life not spent on the run, in disgusting Muggle cesspits.
“Purebloods are fucking weird,” Harry said. He stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Sirius Black doesn’t seem to care what his shoes are doing and he sounds even posher than you.”
“Black was in Azkaban for over a decade; I don’t think he’s an authority on footwear. Besides, Black doesn’t miss it, I don’t think.” Draco siphoned the worst of the muck off his shoe. It still looked oily. He stood up, working his jaw irritably. “I don’t know why — he’s better at this than me, I suppose.”
“I don’t think, like, being on the run from the government is a competition, mate. But if it were, I would be winning.”
Draco kicked him in the shin with his semi-ruined oxford, and Harry yelped in a way that was a little bit sexually appealing, which disturbed Draco on several levels, and then they fell back into a weird, tense silence. Harry watched him with his big, bright eyes and waited. Draco looked at the horrible ground.
“Spit it out,” Harry advised, after what could have been four to seven hours of tension.
“I miss it,” Draco said finally, wretchedly. “Sometimes I think I’d go back if I could. Not to — not what it’s like now. But before, when my mum was… I want it back. I want it back so badly.” He shut his eyes. He didn’t want to look at Harry. He was too ashamed.
Draco opened one eye to squint at him. “What?”
“Were you expecting me to yell at you? You miss it. So what? I think it’d be pretty fucking weird if you didn’t. Sounds like you had a nice enough childhood, enough to eat, nice parents. We live in an abandoned Underground station at the minute. It’s full of rats. Who wouldn’t miss it?”
“But… They’re Death Eaters.”
“Right,” Harry said. “And you’re part of a resistance group against them. You kidnapped the Minister of fucking Magic. You’re harbouring like six fugitives. You’re wanted by the whole bloody lot of them, aren’t you? I don’t see the problem.”
“I didn’t join on purpose.” Draco swallowed hard, his voice cracking. “Potter, it was — I didn’t join because I believed in the cause or had any weird sense of heroic responsibility. I didn’t leave my family for grand moral reasons.”
“Okay. Why’d you leave, then?”
“I left because they were going to kill me,” Draco said, and the words ripped his throat open. He couldn’t stop. “My mum was trying to make alliances so that I didn’t have to… There were expectations. The Dark Lord lived with my family, my father helped bring him back — we were meant to be an example. I had to be a Death Eater, but I was soft. I didn’t have it in me to torture, or kill, or… It wasn’t some moral compunction. I just couldn’t do it, and my mother knew that, and she was trying to find a way to… I don’t know, get me out? I’m not exactly sure. They killed her before she could do anything. Everyone said it was an accident, but it wasn’t. So I left, because they were going to kill me next.”
Harry moved a little bit closer to him, inching his way forward like he was approaching a wild animal. “I’m sorry about your mum, but still not seeing the problem.”
“I was scared,” Draco said furiously. “Is that what you want to hear? I got spooked. I got skittish. I fled, and because I didn’t know where else to go I latched on to them. I knew Granger was planning something, and I convinced Luna and Neville I’d be an asset. I thought they’d protect me. Thought I’d live slightly longer with the bloody Gryffindors than on my own. That’s the only reason I’m here, do you understand? That’s it!”
“Okay,” Potter said.
“Okay? That’s all you’ve got to say about it? Harry, I’m no better than the bloody Death Eaters. I’m a sham. I’m a leech.”
“You’ve got this idea about yourself,” Harry said slowly. “You’ve got it in your head that you’re a traitor to both sides, that you’re no hero because you were scared, or something. No offence, but that’s a load of bollocks. Nobody made you do any of the stuff you did with us. Like, Diagon Alley, or Parkinson Park. You’ve risked your life loads of times for us.”
“That was just —”
“That was just fuck-all. Draco, it doesn’t fucking matter how you got here. You are here.”
Draco looked up at the slate grey clouds. “But I still want… I still want to go back, sometimes. Even after everything that happened.”
“Yeah, that’s a bit fucked up,” Harry said. “But like, what isn’t? You want to go back a little bit, but you don’t. I still don’t see the problem.”
“I’ve done half the things I’ve done because I thought you were fit and I wanted to impress you.”
Harry smirked. “Thanks, mate. I think you’re okay-looking too.”
“You really don’t care?”
Harry shrugged. “I believe that you believe that.”
Draco wanted to kick him in the shin again. “It’s true!”
“Yeah, well, you’ve got a pretty casual relationship to the truth, so to be honest I’m going to go with what I think.”
Draco was gaping unattractively enough at Harry that he was fairly certain any passers-by could do a complete dental history if they had the inclination. “What?”
“You’re a bit dim, mate. Not sure if you know. Let’s leave the thinking to me from now on, all right?”
Draco sputtered. “I want to go back because I don’t want to be poor. It’s humiliating. I don’t know how to do anything, and you all have horrid table manners.”
“Yeah, you’re a right snob, you pillock.” Harry was still smiling, horribly. Draco loved him. It was just the worst.
“If I had anywhere else to go, I’d hit you over the head, drag you across the world and leave everyone else to die. The only thing that’s stopping me is shame, and, you know, financial constraints.”
Harry laughed out loud. “Very caveman of you.”
“I would,” Draco yelped. Harry was not taking this at all seriously. Harry was a complete idiot and would not survive the month if he didn’t get some sense of self-preservation. “I’d leave all of them and drag you to Australia. I don’t give a toss about the country, really. I only care about it because I think you care about it, for some idiotic reason I’ll never understand. You weren’t even brought up in our world. And I miss having a house-elf! I loathe making my own bed. Sometimes I still think bigoted things. Sometimes I wonder if your Muggle upbringing fucked you up for our world for life. I wonder if your magical power is enough to compensate for seventeen years of…” Draco waved his hand vaguely. “You know, emotional problems.”
“Maybe it’s not.”
“Shut up,” Draco said fiercely. “I hate how easily you took to everything, honestly. Except you’re awful at Potions. And your Herbology is shocking. I don’t think you can distinguish between dittany and asphodel.”
“Draco, we’ve got bigger problems than your weird guilt complex. For one thing, I can’t remember what either of those plants are.”
“You’re going to fail your O.W.L.,” Draco said. “Hermione will make her disappointed face.”
“Maybe.” Harry inched a little bit closer and then, very slowly, slid his arms around Draco’s back. It was like a hug from a very nervous marble statue, and Harry clearly had no idea where to put his stupid hands. It made Draco feel so much better that it should have been illegal. “Sorry about your stupid shoes.”
Draco’s awful heart beat so loud. This was horrible. Every time Draco thought, that’s enough, that’s the most one could possibly feel about this handsome lunatic, Harry went and said words or tried to hug him, and Draco went and had more insufferable emotions. He was the last of the Malfoys. He could never go home again, he would be off-balance and confused about social rituals for the rest of his life, and Draco thought — he’d do it all again. Fuck it. He’d burn an entire crate of dragon-leather loafers.
Hermione plotted their route with the trusty help of London A-Z. Their rather unglamorous hideout was well-located: only about a mile away from the safe house. Hermione checked the address about fifteen times as they walked into Islington, and squat brick buildings and rubbish-strewn pavement gave way to Georgian terraces with brightly coloured doors.
No one gave them much by way of a second glance. With their carefully innocuous clothes and scuffed trainers, the lot of them looked like any other group of teenagers roaming the streets after dark. Ginny bounded ahead of them along the narrow pavement, her red hair uncharmed for once. Harry hung back, hands stuffed into his coat pockets, looking at the quiet street with sullen suspicion. Hermione looked at Draco, who shook his head slightly. No reassuring chat, then. She dearly wanted to give one, but it would probably have been more for her benefit than Harry’s. Harry generally just wanted to get on with things, so she suspected Draco had the right idea.
Grimmauld Place must have been a very nice part of London a hundred years ago: the once-handsome terraces were large, with fine brickwork and ornate iron railings. Now there was a distinct smell of piss and rather a lot of rubbish left out everywhere.
“Come on,” Hermione said, and walked over to the patchy grass in the centre of the square. “Let’s pretend to be loitering teenagers for a minute.”
“We are loitering teenagers,” Ginny pointed out.
“What’s that Muggle teenagers drink? Cold John’s?” Ron looked over at Harry, who managed a slight smile.
“Yeah, mate, close enough,” he said.
Hermione produced the scrap of parchment and began to pass it round. The headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix may be found at number twelve, Grimmauld Place, London. “Memorise that,” she said, and once it had gone past everyone’s nose she burned it surreptitiously in her palm. “Now think about what you just read.”
“Holy shit,” Harry said, blinking at the terraces across the street. “Is that… normal?”
Luna smiled. “I’ve never seen a Fidelius Charm in practice before. It’s rather lovely, isn’t it?”
“Could do with a bit of a wash,” Ron said.
Ginny shook her head. “Nah, it’s goth. That’s the vibe. Goth underground resistance headquarters are really in for ninety-eight. ”
Neville looked over at Draco curiously. “This used to be the Black house, right? Have you been here before?”
“Not since I was small,” Draco said, shoulders going up towards his ears. “What, are we just going to stand out here and tempt fate?”
“I do so love tempting fate,” Hermione said, and looked around the square. A stereo blared Oasis from one broken window, but there was no one looking down at them. “Quick, let’s go.”
They all clustered together on the steps. Hermione knocked sharply on the door, and she heard a series of metallic clangs before a little window opened up above the twisted serpent knocker. She caught a glimpse of fierce eyes before the little window closed, and there was another clanking sound before the door opened up.
“Inside, inside,” someone said, and they tumbled into a dim, dank hallway lit by flickering gas lamps. Hermione sneezed. The whole thing was encrusted with dust and cobwebs.
“I don’t remember it looking like this,” Draco muttered.
“Miss Granger, what creature sat in the corner when you first visited my office at Hogwarts?”
Hermione racked her memory. “A grindylow, wasn’t it?”
“Yes.” Remus lowered his wand. “And you can vouch for the others?”
Hermione looked back at everyone: Neville, poking ill-advisedly at a serpent-shaped candelabra; Draco, very pale; Harry, shoulders squared and clutching his wand; Ginny, watching a slumbering portrait of a white-haired woman with a speculative eye; Luna, who appeared to be examining her hair for split ends, but who could just as easily be checking for a stash of Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder hidden in her braid. And Ron, who was looking back at her with one quirked eyebrow.
“Of course,” she said.
“Lovely. Quiet through here,” Remus whispered, with a suspicious look at a pair of long, moth-eaten curtains. He led them through the dank hallway, down narrow stone steps and through a creaky door into a basement kitchen. A long wooden table stretched the length of the large stone room, littered with empty wine bottles and rolls of parchment, quills and maps. Every chair was filled, and over a dozen pairs of eyes were fixed intently on the new arrivals — mostly, to be honest, on Harry.
“Er,” Harry said. “Hello.”
“Mr. Potter,” said Professor McGonagall, rising to her feet. She surveyed them calmly through her square spectacles. “I’m Minerva McGonagall. Welcome to Grimmauld Place.”
The faces of the Order of the Phoenix were shadowed in the flickering candlelight. What with the medieval decor, they could have been two neighbouring kingdoms meeting to broach the prospect of an alliance. Hermione stood in front of her all-time academic idol and she felt — undiminished. They were neighbouring kingdoms, and the war would be won when they combined forces. Hermione realised with a little thrill that they didn’t have to listen to McGonagall, not if they didn’t agree with her. Hermione’s band of teenaged delinquents hadn’t done that badly so far, had they?
Nothing could quash the roar of possibility that paced like a lion through Hermione’s body. It wouldn’t be easy. Hermione suspected that she would have to fight rather hard for a place at this table; and if Lucius Malfoy had given away what he had seen at Parkinson Park, Voldemort’s increased awareness of Harry’s possible contacts would not bode well for anyone. Harry had been rubbing his scar lately as if he had a constant migraine. Ginny still thought that they ought to get into the murder business, and Luna was doing nothing to stop her. Ron’s guilt about his family ate at him more and more every day. Draco kept looking at Professor McGonagall like he was expecting detention. Neville — well, Neville still didn’t know that Harry and Draco were sleeping together, and one of these days he was in for a rude and rather explicit awakening.
It didn’t matter. None of it: the Death Eaters, the cowardly ex-Minister, Voldemort himself. Hermione believed with all her heart. Hope burned inside her skin so fiercely it was a wonder she wasn’t lit up like a torch. They could do this. They could burn the rot from the country like a wildfire and start again.
“Hello, Professor McGonagall,” Hermione said, and took a seat at the table. “Did you have a nice Christmas?”
McGonagall’s mouth twitched. “It was fine, apart from the continual decline of our nation. Shall we begin?”
Hermione grinned. “Let’s,” she said, and folded her hands together. “We have a lot to cover.”